1. General religious orientation of scientific method Scientific thought is the most prevalent current form of religious thought.
Religion is generally defined as a system of fundamental principles and positions held without evidence, that is, by faith.
At the same time, science is the development of and theoretical systematization of objective knowledge about reality in order to describe, explain, and predict processes and phenomena of reality, based on that which is discovered by means of its laws.
Even in this definition of science there are indications of its religious aspects, in particular:
- Belief in the objective existence of natural laws.
- Belief in the unity of these laws in spatial-temporal continuum, which is seen both through immediate observation as well as through laboratory experiments.
- Belief in the rational character of these laws that allows one to comprehend them by similar rational means.
Therefore, the foundation of scientific knowledge is based on faith in the existence of an intelligent, omniscient, omnipotent Legislator, who has the authority not only to establish a unified, self-sufficient law system in the universe, but - contrary to most contemporary legislators - to see that these laws are immutably observed.
That is why, in spite of the high-level development of astronomy, medicine, agriculture, metallurgy, architecture, and art in all pre-Christian civilizations, science itself and the technology generated from it were developed only in European civilization. Additionally, it happened only by the 17th century when faith in one Creator, who by wisdom laid the earth's foundations, by understanding set the heavens in place (Prov. 3:19), sustaining all things by his powerful word (Heb. 1:3), had become a part of the common culture and individual consciousness. When Kepler and Newton, both theologians and scientists, discovered the laws of planetary motion and mechanical movement, and when later Newton synthesized from them the law of gravitational interaction, their triumphal discovery, which laid the foundations of theoretical mechanics, was rightfully understood as the most convincing evidence in support of the postulate of the unity and intelligence of the laws of the universe.
The subsequent spread of the seductive ideas of humanism and progress shattered common faith in the Creator. However, since there was no doubt about the existence of the objective, rationally knowable laws of the universe, the role of the intelligent Legislator was attributed to creation instead of to the Creator. This revived various forms of pantheism and, as a result, displaced the philosophical and ethical aspects of the scientific method, but nonetheless did not remove its religious nature.
2. Particular religious orientation of scientific method
1. Being inherently unable to provide a complete objective description of the system which it examines, science must resort to presentations of models. And the greatest attention paid by the scientific method is to the speculative model hypothesis, theory, paradigm. It is this model that determines further direction both for other forms of scientific modeling (nature, laboratory, mathematical) and the research process itself.
However, any such model is based on a system of primordial presuppositions, assumptions, and axioms taken on trust. Thus, the Darwinian model of the formation of species rests on speculative principles of gradualism and progress; Lobatchevsky's geometrical model rests on the axiom that two lines parallel to a given one can be drawn through a point; Hegel's dialectical model rests on accepting the primacy of the ideal; and so on.
2. As a rule, the scientific model which satisfactorily describes the data which is accumulated up to the time of the model's formation (including data incorrectly interpreted), becomes a widely accepted working model.
The primordial presuppositions of the model, conditional in form and religious in essence, go gradually beyond the system of the issues under consideration, or they turn out to be equivalent to the objective facts observed and described by this model, and result in the phenomenon of circular reasoning, for example, as in the case of thumb sucking (Freud), or survival of the fittest (Darwin).
Faith in the correctness of the speculative presuppositions gives place to faith in the correctness of the model itself. In this stage, what happens is that the collective mentality identifies the model as the reality described by it; the original understanding of the boundaries for the usage of the model is lost. As a result, inadequate syncretic conceptions arise. For instance, dialectical materialism or evolution of inanimate matter (the application of Hegel's dialectics laws to matter is proper only within the limits of the idealistic paradigm; the same can be said about the evolution mechanism provided by Darwin, survival of the fittest - it does not apply in inanimate nature).
3. The important characteristic of the scientific method is its creative potential. Having identified a model with reality, the researcher becomes a creator of the reality, building it in accordance with the model which he has accepted. This is the ontologization of scientific pronouncements, that is, the incarnation of originally speculative conceptions - the realization of the things expected.
This has results which are conditioned by the model itself, but their conformity to the model is often taken for corroboration of faith in its correctness; this develops the second level of circular reasoning. Of no small importance is the semantic pre-determining of the interpretation of newly discovered scientific facts within the bounds of the model. For example, should an experiment on the laboratory synthesis of live matter out of inorganic matter have a positive outcome, most contemporaries would certainly accept it as evidence that there is no need for an intelligent Creator. In fact, it would prove the contrary, namely, that live matter could be produced out of inorganic matter only by an intelligent being with sufficient knowledge and practical skills, providing there is a proper selection of equipment and use of appropriate experimental methodology. Werner Heisenberg made this valid remark: What we observe is not nature as it is but nature in the form it reveals to us due to our way of formulating questions.
[Note, it is this very stage, when the scientific method departs from its religious and moral roots, which is the most dangerous. If any model - always conditional and limited - is widely adopted and also exceeds the bounds of the sphere of its application, it inevitably results in the formation of conditional and limited reality. Social revolutions of the twentieth century offer an excellent illustration of the fact that no consequent sacrifice - human, financial, cultural - is taken into consideration when the masses are possessed with a speculative conception and attempt to carve reality according to it.]
3. Limits of scientific method
So then, however logical and persuasive the paradigm which we acknowledge might seem to us, it is always based on unverifiable religious grounds (that is, based on belief and trust). On the other hand, it does not matter how famous the theory is, the appearance of even minute additional data can completely destroy a previous model at any moment.
Consider the example of the origin of living matter from inorganic matter. Two centuries ago, you would have been shown an experiment that frogs are generated out of silt, and maggots come from rotten meat. The theory of spontaneous generation was the leading generally accepted scientific theory of origins. But since Pasteur's experiments proved its fallacy, the impossibility of spontaneous generation of life became the leading generally accepted theory. Very soon after that the place of the leading generally accepted theory was given to Oparin's idea of the generation of elementary forms of life in the primordial soup. But after thorough analysis of the results of Mueller and Fox's laboratory experiment along with the recent discoveries in informatics, genetics and molecular biology, the enthusiasm of the scientific world has noticeably been growing cold toward the ideas of Oparin.
So, which one of these leading generally accepted scientific theories is correct? What do we know for certain about this issue? Can we actually be certain of what we know and what we don't? There is no answer to these questions within the limits of the scientific method itself - now we exceed the bounds of the sphere wherever the method is adopted and approach the foundation on which the method is based. But this foundation belongs to another sphere, namely religion.
If you are an atheist, for you this is rather the sphere of ignorance. Should you not believe in the existence of anything beyond rational/empirical experience, your whole complex and harmonious system of scientific knowledge is unfounded, hanging in the air. The world is ruled by chance, and any observed regularity is just a coincidence. On the other hand, if you profess some form of pantheism, for instance materialism, then you consider the eternal and infinite Matter to be the intelligent Legislator. But you should not expect this impersonal Matter to tell you when you are right and when you are wrong. In both cases, science is a thankless as well as absolutely meaningless activity, and whoever embarks on this venture will achieve nothing but disappointment.
But let us come back to where we have started. At the beginning of science was the supposition, accepted by faith, that God - the Legislator and Sustainer - exists, and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him (Heb. 11:6). And He did reward! As a matter of fact, He is not a medium, He is neither power nor energy. He is a Person with Whom you can and must have fellowship. Millions of people have been communicating with Him, and it is not His fault if you are not one of them. The fact that you don't play the violin does not at all eliminate violin music. He will willingly reveal Himself to you, provided that you turn your faith to Him. But without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists (cited above).
If your religious views are in accord with the existence of the One, Almighty, Omnscient God, the Creator, the whole system of scientific endeavor finds a firm and reasonable foundation, that is, His revelation. Can a more reliable source of information be expected? Who knows our world better than the One Who created it? None will find it crazy when somebody, before operating an appliance, first reads the manual written by its designer. Strictly speaking, all these laws discovered by scientists are the revelation of God because since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - His eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made (Rom. 1:20). But the complete revelation which gives you the answer not to the question How? but to the question Why? is His Word, the Bible.
Do we want scientific knowledge to be built on a firm foundation? Then we have only one choice - to trust in the Creator Who exhorted: Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. Then the rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against the house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock (Mt. 7:24-25).
Christian Center for Science and Apologetics